Club rower, club rower, eccentric old bloke, corporate boozer, Olympic Gold medallist, lady with weird hair piece, post-exams teenager, club rower plus girlfriend, rar public school girls, family picnic, American student avec crusty facial hair, eccentric old bloke x 2. That, my friends, is looking around Henley Regatta on a Friday.
The Daily Mail - *turns to spit on the floor* - has already run a couple of articles on mainly the fashion at Henley Royal. On the whole they paint the Regatta as some sort of posh-boy megathon with a bit of young skirt on the side. The whole Holly Willoughby vs Katie Hopkins This Morning debate has surely brought the age old 'judging a book by it's cover' dichotomy to the fore and I'd suggest the Daily Mail change a century old habit to move away from cheap, often inaccurate and sensationalist 'journalism' and maybe explore the deeper truth about the regatta.
As I started this post, you can look at Henley in a superficial manner - judging each person by their cover - but in doing so you miss what makes it special. That 'club rower' is that young guy from accounts, looking to achieve a Henley win before career and school runs ruin his chances of sporting glory. That eccentric old bloke, ex-rower, saved four lives on the operating table yesterday. The obvious public school girls are a new breed of post-2012 inspired teenagers seeking a win in the regatta's newest event (Junior Girls Quads). The American student avec crusty facial hair is on the edge of their national team and weighing up whether to take his Harvard degree to Goldman Sachs or to take a punt on the Olympic dream. Unfortunately the lady with the weird hair piece was just too weird to find out who she really was.
Henley is tribal; hence the colours, the blazers and gatherings. Racing is pure, mano a mano, arousing passionate displays of support. The crowd is perceived as posh but that's mainly a judgement on the traditional style. The event is billed as elitist but it's one of the only events in the UK where you can come and watch Olympic medallists from across the globe and not pay a penny. "It's all Pimms and champagne", you obviously haven't seen the whole 'chavs with a tinny' vibe on the Saturday night. Racing is dull, yet a one foot verdict dog fight is almost guaranteed several times a day. Forget the trappings of the event, look at its core - top national and international standard men and women slogging it out against their equals.
Five days of knock outs lead into what is regarded as the greatest prize in domestic rowing. Just look to Wimbledon and Sabine Lisicki to see the momentum that consecutive days of competing can bring. The excitement and tension as a whole club gathers behind their crew is intoxicating. And for those that are left competing on the final day, there is an unspoken respect in the locker room, that subtle and understated 'well done' from your peers means more than any trophy or title.
Look beyond the obvious.
Henley Royal Regatta; rowing's Colosseum.